Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

It took a while, but Team Czechia has released its final roster for the 2024 World Junior Championship (WJC) in Gothenburg, Sweden. Returning from an amazing performance in last year’s tournament where they made the WJC Final and pushed Connor Bedard and Team Canada to overtime (eventually losing 3-2), based on that performance they will be contenders for this year’s tournament.

Czechia (The Hockey Writers)

The last time Team Czechia played in Sweden was in 2014 when they finished in the quarterfinals after losing to Team Finland 5-3. In the past three tournaments, Czechia has only one silver medal to account for, and before last year’s tournament, they weren’t medallists since 2005. Now they are moving in a different direction with a new era emerging and lots of NHL talent arising from Europe.

Goaltending

Michael Hrabal (University of Massachussets), Michael Schnattinger (Bílí Tygři Liberec), Jakub Vondraš (Sudbury Wolves)

If there is one thing the Czechs have always brought to the table, it’s goaltending and a lot of great NHL goalies have played in the WJC for Team Czechia. Dominik Hasek is probably the most notable NHL goaltender to ever represent Team Czechia in the WJC and in the past 13 years, Mrázek was the last to win Best Goaltender in 2012 followed by a spot on the WJC All-Star Team and a WJC Top Three Player Award for his stellar performance while representing Team Czechia in that tournament.

Tomas Suchanek, Team Czechia (Photo by Andy Devlin/ Getty Images)

This year, they no longer have Tomas Suchanek (who finished as the second-best goaltender in last year’s tournament) but they have a promising bunch that can get the job done with lots of elite experience. Michael Hrabal is most likely going to get a majority of the starts for Team Czechia and deserves it after being one of the highly anticipated goaltenders in the 2023 NHL Draft being selected by the Arizona Coyotes in the second round (38th overall). His 6-foot-6 frame (which was the tallest in the 2023 NHL Draft class), is a key factor in why he was highlighted in the draft. During the 2023 U18 World Championship (WC), Hrabal finished with a record of 1-4-0 with a .920 save percentage (SV%) and a 3.11 goals-against average (GAA) through five games.

Hrabal played 31 games with the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League (USHL) during the 2022-23 season and currently plays with the University of Massachusetts where he has a record of 7-3-1, a .905 SV%, a 2.67 GAA and a shutout in his 12 games played with them this season. However, Hrabal is not the only NHL-drafted goaltender on this roster with some North American hockey experience. Jakub Vondraš, a 2022 Carolina Hurricanes sixth-rounder, currently plays with the Sudbury Wolves and will be entering his first major IIHF tournament. With the Wolves, Vondraš has a record of 10-5-2 with a .873 SV%, a 3.43 GAA and a shutout.

Related: 2024 WJC Guide

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Michael Schnattinger is the only goaltender on this roster who hasn’t been drafted by an NHL team but brings a lot of international and Canadian Hockey League (CHL) experience. In 2022, he represented Team Czechia in the U18 WC where he finished with a 1-3-0 record followed by a .873 SV% and a 3.79 GAA in four games played. He also played with the Kamloops Blazers last season and finished with a 1-2-2 record, a .880 SV%, and a 3.74 GAA through nine games played. One player missing from this goaltending roster is Adam Dybal who was on the Team Czechia roster during the U18 WC.

Defensemen

Marek Alscher (Portland Winterhawks), Tomáš Cibulka (Val-D’Or Foreurs), Aleš Čech (BK Mladá Boleslav), Tomáš Galvas (Bílí Tygři Liberec), Tomáš Hamara (Brantford Bulldogs), Adam Jiřiček (HC Škoda Plzeň), Matteo Kočí (Kamloops Blazers), Vojtěch Port (Edmonton Oil Kings)

Making a return to the blue line for Team Czechia in the 2024 WJC are Ales Čech and Tomáš Hamara (Ottawa Senators). Last year, Čech put up two points in seven games while Hamara had one point the whole tournament. Now they are looking to take on a bigger role this year and their size and frame could be beneficial on the defensive end. New to this year’s roster are Marek Alscher (Florida Panthers), Tomáš Cibulka, Tomáš Galvas, Adam Jiřiček (brother of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ David Jiřiček), Matteo Kočí, and Vojtěch Port (Anaheim Ducks).

Jiřiček and Kočí played in the U18 WC a year ago, with Jiřiček scoring one point in that tournament and Kočí getting no points, however, the two will probably be paired together since they played in the U18 tournament together. Five out of seven of these defensive players come from the CHL. One defenseman who was expected to play but was not listed on the roster was Jakub Dvořák (Los Angeles Kings).

Forwards

Adam Bareš (Lahti Pelicans), Ondřej Becher (Prince George Cougars), Jakub Hujer (Rimouski Oceanic), Jiří Kulich (Rochester Americans), Matěj Maštalířský (HC Verva Litvínov), Matyáš Melovský (Baie-Comeau Drakkar), Matěj Přibyl (HC Vítkovice Ridera), Sebastián Redlich (Söderǎlje), Dominik Rymon (Everett Silvertips), Robin Sapoušek (Victoria Royals), Šimon Slavíček (Flint Firebirds), Eduard Šalé (Barrie Colts), Matyáš Šapovaliv (Saginaw Spirits), Jakub Štancl (Växjö Lakers), Adam Židlický (Mississauga Steelheads)

Making a return up front are Eduard Šalé (Seattle Kraken), Robin Sapoušek, Jiří Kulich (Buffalo Sabres), and Matyáš Šapovaliv (Vegas Golden Knights) while the rest of the forwards are making their WJC debut. From the 2023 U18 WC, other than Šalé, are Adam Židlický (son of former NHLer Marek Židlický) and Jakub Štancl (St. Louis Blues). Those three forwards are most likely going to be placed in the top six categories of their lineup, with Šalé bringing lots of experience from the previous WJC tournament where he finished with six points in seven games in Halifax last year. This year could be his breakout year in the tournament as he was projected to be the best Czech forward in the 2023 NHL Draft.

Eduard Sale, Team Czechia (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

You can’t talk about forwards on this roster without mentioning Kulich. He’s coming into this tournament with one NHL game under his belt and now plays with the Rochester Americans where he was one of the top prospects. Last year, he finished the tournament with the most points on Team Czechia (nine), and was just outside the top 10 in the tournament, good enough to get him a spot on the 2023 WJC All-Star list. A fresh face to look forward to in this tournament is Štancl who was key to Team Czechia in the 2023 U18 WC. Štancl provides size on one forward line and is a physical asset to their forecheck to win puck battles in the offensive zone which is great for their special teams.

Czechia a Dark Horse in the Tournament

In previous WJC tournaments, we’ve seen teams build up skilled rosters with some big up-and-coming names but with Czechia, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Sure, they have some talent but after seeing how they played in the previous WJC, they’ve opened a lot of eyes to how dangerous they were against big teams like USA, Canada, and Sweden. After all, they were able to push Sweden and Canada to overtime in the knockout rounds while keeping their goals-against low.

This year it seems like they want to repeat what they did last year by adding enough size and strength mixed with some skillful playmakers to keep pucks out of their net and counter on offense. Losing most of their key players due to eligibility and being placed in a group with Team Slovakia, Team USA, Team Switzerland, and Team Norway, plenty of teams will expect them to be weak in their roster unless they prove otherwise.

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